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Why we have religion
Posted: 20 March 2005 10:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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[quote author=“bpk”]To discard Christianity because it can’t be “proven” requires one to define proof.  By defining proof one has the ability to determine that it’s burden hasn’t been met.

No!  We don’t discard Christianity because it can’t be “proven” but because it can be disproven!

There are many truth claims in the Bible which are obviously, patently, false.  The flood and Noah’s ark often seems the easiest one to make the point on.  The Bible claims that, a scant few thousands of years ago, God flooded the ENTIRE earth, thus killing all land animals and human beings, excepting those that went with Noah on an ark that he built.

Simply put, the biodiversity of the earth, the lack of a biological evidence of all land animals originating from a single point a few thousands of years ago, the fact that much of the aquatic and plant life of our world would not have survived the Biblically described flood, and the growing evidence of a flood of that time and region that is almost certainly the inspiration for the flood myth all come together to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the flood of the Bible is a myth.

[quote author=“bpk”]Arguments against fundamentalist Christian Faith for these reasons of lack of proof are really quite circular, and destroy their own purported legitimacy via this high brow sentiment.

When some truth claims can be disproven, and other truth claims cannot be proven, how is it circular reasoning to claim that something is bunk?

[quote author=“bpk”]I think experience and reason are better measuring sticks than so-called “proof”. Facts have merit, sure, but they aren’t the same as the undisputed truth.

Facts, by definition, are the only truths which are not disputed!  Your “so-called” truth is highly disputed!  However, because my curiosity really has the better of me, pray tell how experience and reason have lead you to believe the Bible?

-Matt

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Posted: 21 March 2005 12:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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[quote author=“bpk”]To discard Christianity because it can’t be “proven” requires one to define proof.


Actually genuine belief has to be the result of sufficient evidence, not the other way around (i.e. derived from reality, rather than imposed upon it), otherwise it’s just pretend (or presumption). People don’t believe things because they can’t be disproven, so when believers break this one out it’s an ad hoc (for this case only) kind of special pleading—unless of course they really do believe everything they can’t disprove, but if that were true they’d probably be living in a padded cell.

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 21 March 2005 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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It seems to me that #1 - You first have to prove the existence of God before it becomes incumbant on us nonbelievers to prove anything. There simply is no evidence for the exitence of god any more believable than there is for the existence of Khrishna or Zeus or Baal?  All of these offer us the very same, the identical, the synonymous versions of so-called evidence.  So aside from all that, what sort of experience and reason do you offer that differs from that of the believers in Khrishna and Baal and Zeus?  You obviously do not believe in these other gods, so what is it that has convinced you of Jehovah’s reality?  Give us that proof and #2 - we can proceed from there.

Bob

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Posted: 21 March 2005 03:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Hello there Ordinary ...

I’ve been absent for a bit and am now trying to catch up on some of the threads.  You guys have been busy for the past couple of weeks !  One thing you wrote caught my eye ...

The problem I have with the idea of creating my own meaning is whatever that is, it dies with me. So on my death bed, I go and slip off into a place where…nothing exists.

Your words caught my attention because they actually describe one of the jumps in my thinking that encouraged non-belief rather than belief.  As someone who grew up in the church and believed in heaven and hell, I would from time to time fret, not over actually dying (because I considered myself in good enough standing with God to make it into heaven ...), but I would fret over what happens after death, for eternity, ever and ever, for all time, no escape ... 

My question as a little kid wasn’t what happens when you die but what happens when you’re dead? 

Nothing in the Bible or at Church was providing me any sense of comfort since the ‘answer’ always included either heaven or hell.  It wasn’t until I was 17 that a sister’s boyfriend offered an alternative to what the church was teaching when he said he believed that when we die, depending on how we live our life, we (our soul) either feels hate or love for eternity.  I thought that was pretty interesting and I hung onto that idea for many years (and incorporated it into my religious beliefs) to get me through my frets about death. 

Almost twenty years later ...  one of my sisters, who is atheist, said she believed that when we die, there’s nothing there.  Her statement lead me to think that nothing, in my case anyway, is preferable to an eternity of anything.  No matter what you can imagine, no matter how many perks, Disney World or island beach paradise perfect it could be, who would want an eternity of it? I have fainted a few times during my life, and unconscious ain’t a bad thing.  I could do unconscious for eternity.  There’s no feeling, no recollection, no nothing.  It’s a very comfortable state of being actually. 

I also find comfort in thinking that my ‘soul,’ whatever is uniquely me, and the souls of my friends and family, stick around here on this planet rather than zooming off to some high in the sky, out of reach, alter-universe. 

I would suppose any one person’s feelings about what happens after death is a very personal thing depending on how much death and in which ways they’ve experienced it - as a doctor, soldier, policeman, fireman, parent.  If there’s no violence or tragedy associated with death, it can be a very natural and peaceful passing.  To fade away into nothing, where I will be at peace, is preferable to entering the pearly gates to be judged, where I would be on guard, arguments at the ready to explain away all my dire misdeeds, to plead my way into heaven.  I’d rather be snoozing in my box, thanks.  In every case, to fade into nothing seems to me to be a peaceful end - either to a full life or to end of an individual’s suffering - illness, accident, war, crime. 

Christianity, on the other hand, is often useless when it comes to pain, suffering and death.  It works okay for the ‘natural’ death, but it often creates more anguish than comfort for people when it comes to tragedy.  When we are in deapest need of comfort, the Church falls short because it adds to the pain and suffering with its judgement factor.  Take suicide for instance.  Suicide is a sin, so instead of the family members receiving non-judgemental support, they are given the additional burden of shame to carry around with their grief, not to mention they need to look for new non-consecrated burial grounds ...

All this to say, ‘nothing’ has a lot of value.  Just ask the Buddhists ... smile

Susan

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Posted: 22 March 2005 07:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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Susan,

Thanks for your thoughts.  They seem very honest.  Again, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience from the church concerning the afterlife.  I don’t hold much of what you were taught as a younger person.  Words like ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are highly metaphorical and I believe are trying to convey deeper meaning.

What I see from the scriptures is that for the Christian, death leads us towards our treasure, not away from our treasure.  In my experienc, that’s why so many people fear death; they fear losing what they prize the most (whatever that might be for a person).  For the Christian, though death itself isn’t something we’re all that excited about, we believe our treasure is on the other side of it, thus death moves us closer to our treasure not further away.

You said,

Christianity, on the other hand, is often useless when it comes to pain, suffering and death

  That hasn’t been my experience.  Its the reverse for me.  I am able make sense out of pain and suffering because of my faith, not in spite of it.

On the one hand, ‘nothing’ may have a lot to offer in death (ie no more pain, suffering, grief).  But on the other, we lose what we all long for very deeply (ie that relationship that can be characterized as nothing other than beautiful, loving, and joyous).  I’m grateful that my faith answers these questions.

Thanks again for your thoughtful remarks.

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Posted: 22 March 2005 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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Bob,

By definition, my God can’t be defined.  He’s infinite.  You can’t prove infinity.  I shared many posts ago in a different discussion that all mathematics depends on the existence of an ultimate infinity, yet that ultimate infinity can’t be ‘proven’.  Likewise with my belief in God, I can’t prove God exists (he’s infinite; to define means to set limits [to predicate].  This is impossible with infinity).

So like Mathematics, while ultimate infinity can’t be proven, all mathematics depends on its existence.  While I can’t prove the existence of God, I can’t make sense of anything without his existence.

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Posted: 22 March 2005 07:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]By definition, my God can’t be defined. He’s infinite. You can’t prove infinity.


Exactly!

God can’t be confidently “experienced” or known—by definition. Our senses don’t deal with “other than nature” (i.e. supernatural), therefore we can’t have any real perception of any such a thing. Alleged perceptions of gods are pure presumption, by definition.

I think this is by design and/or by evolution—the human mind being the sole mechanism driving the evolution of religion, and humans being such ingenious, devious, crafty bastards and all when we want to be (particularly when we want to fool ourselves).

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 22 March 2005 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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Byron,

I’m glad that we cleared things up.  I’m assuming by your ‘exactly’ you mean that’s what you’ve been trying to say.  We can move on then.

you say,

Our senses don’t deal with “other than nature”

  I wouldn’t say that God’s wholly other.  The infinite upholds, encompasses, cradles (weird words, I guess) the finite.  Finitude is wrapped up in infinity.  They are not opposites.  So every part of who I am (including my sensory experiences) are rooted and based in the infinity of God.  If I am right about that, how then can I not experience God through my senses.  So infinity is not wholly other.  It transcends, but still is connected.  That’s why I wouldn’t agree with your quote

therefore we can’t have any real perception of any such a thing.

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Posted: 22 March 2005 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]By definition, my God can’t be defined.  He’s infinite.  You can’t prove infinity.  I shared many posts ago in a different discussion that all mathematics depends on the existence of an ultimate infinity, yet that ultimate infinity can’t be ‘proven’.  Likewise with my belief in God, I can’t prove God exists (he’s infinite; to define means to set limits [to predicate].  This is impossible with infinity).

So like Mathematics, while ultimate infinity can’t be proven, all mathematics depends on its existence.  While I can’t prove the existence of God, I can’t make sense of anything without his existence.

Let’s get a few things straight here.  Math does not “depend” on infinity, rather the concept of infinity is a natural result of scholarly inquiry.

The notion that 2 + 2 = 4 does not require someone to posit infinity!  Really, it doesn’t.

Infinity is an abstract concept to give us a means of dealing with the fact that we could always represent larger (or smaller) numbers.  Infinity, therefore, is provable in the same way that all math is provable.  Interestingly enough, if one wants to be extremely rigid when it comes to the notion of truth, these abstract concepts are the only things that can really be proven.

As for your notion that the universe does not make sense without God. . .  I respect your opinion (or more accurately your right to it), of course, but fail to see how it presents a terribly strong argument for me (or anyone else for that matter).  Are you suggesting that, if I don’t have a particular problem making sense of the universe without God, that I have no reason to believe in him?

I have encountered alcoholoics who wonder how anyone can make it through life without drinking.  This hardly seems a rational argument for non-drinkers to take up a bottle!

Let me sum up this way:  Ordinary, you clearly have a level of personal belief that is very important to you.  However, beyond asserting that it is important to you (of which I have no doubt), you seem to have difficulty making a constructive argument as to why I should believe as you do.

I have no quarrel with individual quests for religious/spiritual/mystical truth.  i have no problem with people sharing what they have discovered on such quests.  I would even, to an extent, grant the rationality of the following argument: I was unhappy.  I decided to seek a spiritual understanding.  That quest brought me greater happiness, therefore, I suggest that other unhappy people undertake similar quests.  Where I get nervous, however, is when people make the leap of asserting that revelations from within these quests contradict observable facts about the universe, and expect me to accept the revelation over the science.

Unfortunately, and this is a key point that Sam makes in the book, when people start making such claims, we can’t simply give them a pass because they are a “spiritual” belief.  Once someone makes a testable claim about the world which can be proven false, we need to call them on it.

-Matt

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Posted: 22 March 2005 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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Matt, you say

Let’s get a few things straight here. Math does not “depend” on infinity, rather the concept of infinity is a natural result of scholarly inquiry.

The notion that 2 + 2 = 4 does not require someone to posit infinity! Really, it doesn’t.

  I have know idea what educational background is, but I’m guessing its not in the hard sciences.  You are completely and catagorically wrong.  Scholarly inquiry has determined that very thing (which you deny).  If you study theoretical mathematics, you will see that 2+2=4 only makes sense if there is ultimate infinity.  That’s why I use the example.  This is why foundationalism[the idea that we can ‘ground’ knowledge] is being abandoned in philosophy; we are realizing its not easy to do.  Confindently affirming what I stated before

So like Mathematics, while ultimate infinity can’t be proven, all mathematics depends on its existence. While I can’t prove the existence of God, I can’t make sense of anything without his existence.

That’s why your previous quote

No! We don’t discard Christianity because it can’t be “proven” but because it can be disproven!

is almost laughable.  Now, you may be feel fairly convicted and persuaded that Christianity is wrong, but you haven’t, nor has anyone else, ‘proven’ it false.  I mean, seriously, if Christianity is so easily disproven, why hasn’t someone done it centuries ago?  Why are there so many people who still believe?.... Oh yeah, its because they want to believe lies and live in fear and be held in bondage?!  Do you see how unconvincing that sounds.

Again, its in these areas that I’m just astounded by the double standard of the skeptic.  You blast believers for the inability to prove their position, yet you haven’t (and even can’t) prove yours.  I would love so much and appreciate a discussion with an honest skeptic who’s able to admit his/her own leaps in judgment.

I’m not sure how able I am to construct an arguement for you to believe.  You may be right, I may not be able to do that.  But I think that it is also quite possible that you (along with others) are unwilling to explore the possibility, not that my argumenation is so weak.

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Posted: 22 March 2005 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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[quote author=“ordinary”]
[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
No! We don’t discard Christianity because it can’t be “proven” but because it can be disproven!

is almost laughable. Now, you may be feel fairly convicted and persuaded that Christianity is wrong, but you haven’t, nor has anyone else, ‘proven’ it false. I mean, seriously, if Christianity is so easily disproven, why hasn’t someone done it centuries ago? Why are there so many people who still believe?

From my point of view there is no proving anything one way or the other.  Rather, science has, by virtue of explaining phenomena, esp. the theory of evolution, simply made religious beliefs in an interfering god unneccessary.  It doesn’t matter what anybody believes or wishes to believe and no one is going to provide proofs of existence or non-existence.

Look, we simply have developed a better understanding of cause-effect, forces and now, with the revolution taking place in neuroscience how minds come about and work.  With each stage of progress we’ve been able to relieve god of the need for doing anything active to make things work.  God can sit back and relax.  He did such a great job choosing the fundamental constants of nature that this whole universe just evolved out of the big bang to be what it is.  I suspect, if anything, the creator is enjoying the show, and quite possibly being surprised by much of what is going on.

g

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Posted: 22 March 2005 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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I don’t see how it is particularly relevant, but my educational background is computer science.

Let me carefully rephrase what I said earlier, lest we have a critical misunderstanding.  Yes, I believe that the concept of infinity is indeed inescapable, but I would like to point out that, in human math, the concept of 2+2=4 predates the concept of infinity.  Additionally, when we teach children math, we don’t start with the “foundation” of infinity.  Furthermore, someone who (for whatever reason) rejected the notion of infinity would be able to perform basic math with no problem.

This infinity of math, however, is an abstract concept.  Newton proposed a model of the world, in which the math was all quite tidy (although still more complicated than our discussion here).  Einstein came along and proved that the world is more complicated still (and by a quite a lot) than Newton allowed for.  The point of this is that people can come up with tidy math all day long, but that to jump from tidy math to the real world is generally a messy task.

What really gets me is your claim that an abstract concept cannot be proven.  I think that you are missing the point of such a construct in the first place.

As for proving that Christianity is wrong, I will, once again, raise the issue of the flood.  I feel that I raised sufficient reason to doubt the Biblical account, and as Christianity affirms the inerrancy of the Bible in its entirety, the disproving of any single truth claim is sufficient to call the whole thing into question.

I mean, seriously, if Christianity is so easily disproven, why hasn’t someone done it centuries ago? Why are there so many people who still believe?.... Oh yeah, its because they want to believe lies and live in fear and be held in bondage?! Do you see how unconvincing that sounds.

First of all, it has been disproven in antiquity.  Unfortunately, the church had a habit of burning people who went public with such proof.  It is amazing what people will “believe” when not believing it is a good way to get killed.  That these people would tell their children that it was true is equally unsurprising.  That children believe their parents and will cling to things told them in childhood, even well into adulthood is easily demonstrated.  Many children are quite shocked and upset when they are forced to realize that Santa Claus is not real.  Many of them will, at first, quickly jump forward with “evidence” that they think supports their claim.  Generations of entrenched belief is hard to shake.

Second of all, the fact that a majority of people believe something in no way makes it true.  There was a time when most people thought the earth was flat and the center of the universe.  There was a time when people thought that flies spontaneously generated from decay.  Why did people believe these things?  There are a lot of Muslims in the world, what makes Christians right, and them wrong?  Clearly the number of people who believe something really has no bearing on the truth.  If it did, we could all take drugs that are designed to make it easier to learn something, and collectively “learn” the world into Utopia.

At the risk of sounding like a lot of people who annoy me by abusing Occam’s Razor, I will invoke it here just to be clear:  Can I prove, beyond all doubt, that the events of the Bible, no matter how improbable they seem, and contradictory they seem, did not happen?  No, I cannot.  At the extreme edge of probability, I would be forced to concede that an awful lot of things are theoretically possible.  however, given the observable facts, I believe that the Biblical account is far from being the simplest working explanation, and thus, reject it (or rather those parts of it that do not conform to what seems experimentally verifiable).

If I were to assert that, much like the movie “The Matrix”, we were all living inside of a giant simulation, how would you go about disproving me?  The truth is that you can’t.  Does it mean that it is true?  Of course not!  To take the stance that anything which cannot be proven false beyond all conceivable doubt must be accepted is to invite bedlam.  A man could kill his wife and claim that aliens did it, and framed him for it, manipulating the physical evidence to make it convincing.  Who would be able to claim that he was wrong?

I’m not sure how able I am to construct an arguement for you to believe. You may be right, I may not be able to do that. But I think that it is also quite possible that you (along with others) are unwilling to explore the possibility, not that my argumenation is so weak.

I am willing to explore the possibility!  I was raised Christian, and was a practicing fundamentalist until young adulthood.  I stopped believing when the inconsistancies became to great for me to ignore.  Give me something with some meat to it, instead of this wishy washy defense that seems to be based upon my inability to prove a negative.

-Matt

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Posted: 22 March 2005 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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[quote author=“gman”][quote author=“ordinary”]
[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
No! We don’t discard Christianity because it can’t be “proven” but because it can be disproven!

is almost laughable. Now, you may be feel fairly convicted and persuaded that Christianity is wrong, but you haven’t, nor has anyone else, ‘proven’ it false. I mean, seriously, if Christianity is so easily disproven, why hasn’t someone done it centuries ago? Why are there so many people who still believe?

From my point of view there is no proving anything one way or the other.  Rather, science has, by virtue of explaining phenomena, esp. the theory of evolution, simply made religious beliefs in an interfering god unneccessary.  It doesn’t matter what anybody believes or wishes to believe and no one is going to provide proofs of existence or non-existence.

I will concede that the concept of God (or gods, or a devine creative force, or what have you) is not definitively provable, one way or another.  However, we don’t tend to get into trouble until someone makes specific claims about this or that deity.  Unfortunately, specific claims lead to a lot of the horrible behavior that prompted Sam to write the book.  Fortunately, specific claims often enter the realm of testability.  Certainly the Bible is chock full of specific claims that, being supposedly the direct word of God, make it at least conceivably possible to disprove him specifically.

The reason why I am so adamant about towing the line is because of the fact that many great evils in our society are being tolerated (and even perpetrated) because of the preponderance of Christian beliefs.

-Matt

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Posted: 22 March 2005 01:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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Matt,

You say,

However, we don’t tend to get into trouble until someone makes specific claims about this or that deity.

  If we come to a conclusion that its reasonable to believe that some sort of God exists, then I think the next step is to explore which belief system best explains what we experience as a world.  I’m with you, its not always a pretty exercise and many people aren’t looking for truth but are looking to exercise power or control.  But I do think that its natural (and good) to start attempting to get specific.  I don’t think the actual attempt is abhorrent, but possibly what happens in and to people during the process that is abhorrent.

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Posted: 22 March 2005 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]If we come to a conclusion that its reasonable to believe that some sort of God exists, then I think the next step is to explore which belief system best explains what we experience as a world.  I’m with you, its not always a pretty exercise and many people aren’t looking for truth but are looking to exercise power or control.  But I do think that its natural (and good) to start attempting to get specific.  I don’t think the actual attempt is abhorrent, but possibly what happens in and to people during the process that is abhorrent.

I am not saying that it is reasonable to claim that some sort of god exists.  I am saying that it is unreasonable to categorically assert the negative, and there is rather a large gap between the two points.

My point is this:  Given the difficulties of making a good positive case for any God, how much harder is it to make the case for a specific God?

Although I have said this before, I will say it again.

If one posits that God is the “first cause” then where did God come from?  Why is there anything instead of nothing?  Given the inherent inability of man to answer these questions to any degree of satisfaction, how is it more rational to believe in a God than not?

-Matt

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